Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa were the three great Sinhalese capitals, and together they form the area known as the Cultural Triangle.

The heart of Sri Lanka‘s ancient civilisation, this historic region is crammed full of temples and monuments and its ruined cities are fascinating places to explore. Anuradhapura was the county’s capital for over 1,000 years and was one of the greatest monastic cities of its time, with thousands of monasteries dotted across the land.

Polonnaruwa also served as the capital, but for a much more modest 200 years. It offers a compelling insight into medieval Sri Lanka and what was one of the great urban centres of South Asia.

One of Sri Lanka‘s most visited and awe inspiring sites is the palace and fortress complex of Sigiriya. Perched atop a huge rocky plateau, the site initially served as a monastery before King Kasyapa built his royal residence here. The entrance was built in the form of a huge lion, which eared it the name ‘Lion Rock’ but today only his feet remain – though it has to be said, they are some very large and impressive feet.

Also well worth visiting are the cave temples of Dambulla and Mihintale, the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

It’s not all ancient ruins, however, and the nearby Minneriya National Park with its herds of elephant, sambar deer, purple-faced langur monkeys, sloths and very elusive leopards is the perfect place to experience Sri Lanka’s wilderness.

This part of Sri Lanka really fascinated me – there is so much history concentrated in a relatively small area. Sigiriya Lion Rock Fortress is well worth the climb and I especially enjoyed exploring the ancient monasteries of Anuradhapura by bike. There are some places that cars just can’t reach!

Rachel O'Leary
Travel Designer

What to do

  • Visit the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, admiring temples, stupas and statues
  • Explore the magnificent hilltop fort and palace complex of Sigiriya
  • Marvel at the cave temples of Dambulla, the largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. Buddhist mural paintings cover the walls and there are over 150 statues
  • Get your wildlife fix at Minneriya National Park, home to elephants, monkeys, deer and a mind boggling array of birdlife

When to go

Average temperatures in the Cultural Triangle are between 26-28°C. The most pleasant time to visit is in the dry season between April and September while the wetter months are from October to November.